NEW YORK – Praised as a hero who wanted to help the New York Police Department evolve, slain Officer Jason Rivera drew tributes and vows that the force will “never give up” at a funeral Friday for the rookie who was gunned down with his partner last week.
Police filled the pews at St. Patrick's Cathedral, and a sea of blue uniforms stretched for blocks as snow drifted outside the city's iconic church.
Jeffrey Rivera recalled how his brother as a youngster was obsessed with joining the police force, even if he would later come to know its flaws.
Mayor Eric Adams, himself a retired NYPD captain, said he saw an echo of himself in the slain officer who joined a department he hoped he could make better.
“He did it for the right reasons — he wanted to make a difference,” said Adams, a Democrat who also sounded a message of support for a department that, like others, has faced criticism amid a national reckoning with policing, race and what public safety should mean.
“There were days when I felt the public did not understand and appreciate the job we were doing, and I want to tell you officers: They do. They do,” Adams said.
Rivera, 22, and Officer Wilbert Mora, 27, were fatally wounded Jan. 21 by a gunman who opened fire on them in a hallway as they responded to a family dispute.
Through tears, Rivera’s wife, Dominique Luzuriaga, recalled the horror of seeing cellphone alerts about two officers being shot in Harlem. Her worries grew as she texted and called the former elementary school classmate she married this past October. She got no answer until the call that summoned her to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
Authorities are still investigating what motivated the gunman, who was shot by a third officer and later died.
During her husband's funeral, Luzuriaga lashed out at new Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat who has instructed prosecutors not to pursue certain cases, including some allegations of resisting arrest.
“The system continues to fail us. We are not safe anymore. Not even the members of the service,” Luzuriaga said.
Bragg, who had no involvement with the officers' killer, responded in a statement that he was grieving and praying for the slain officers and will “vigorously prosecute cases of violence against police.”
Rivera and Mora were the third and fourth officers shot in the city within 72 hours, and during a two-week stretch that also saw a woman pushed to her death in front of a subway train and an 11-month-old baby critically injured by a stray bullet. Crime has risen in the last few years from record lows but remains well below its early 1990s peak in the nation’s most populous city.
“The horror that took their lives is an affront to every decent, caring human being in this city and beyond,” Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell said, telling any criminals in the city to “see the presence in this cathedral — the NYPD will never give up this city.”
After Mora and Rivera were shot, Adams and Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul announced plans to crack down on illegal guns and combat crime. President Joe Biden, a Democrat, is due to meet with Adams Thursday to discuss combating gun violence.
Both Mora and Rivera — who was posthumously promoted to detective on Friday — grew up in the city’s ethnic enclaves and had hoped to help the department build bridges with the community.
“Jason saw the need and had the desire to foster a positive relationship between police and his community,” said Inspector Amir Yakatally, the commanding officer of Rivera's and Mora's precinct.
He noted that Rivera was so excited to get to work that he double-parked in front of the stationhouse his first day and showed up early every workday after.
Jeffrey Rivera recalled that as a youngster, his brother — “Tata” to his family and friends — listened to police radio transmissions, watched police dramas on TV and became “obsessed” with a law enforcement career.
Jason Rivera would eventually write that he had initially been angered by policing — particularly being pulled over in a taxi and seeing officers frisk his brother — but came to feel that the NYPD was trying to do better at community relations.
Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan presided over Rivera's service, speaking Spanish in recognition of the first-generation New Yorker's Dominican heritage. Father Robert Abbatiello, the pastor of a suburban church , choked up as he recalled the officer leading a prayer at his brother's wedding a few years ago.
Officers came from near and far to honor Rivera, who was just into his second year on the job.
“It doesn’t really matter what uniform we wear,” said Master Police Officer Tammy Russel, from Fairfax County, Virginia. “These are all our brothers and sisters. ... Sadness all around.”
Some civilians joined in mourning the slain officer, standing shoulder to shoulder with uniformed officers who wore black sashes over their badges.
Bob Weakley said he was there to pay tribute to “these people who do such an important job for us."
As the crowds dispersed Friday, an officer solemnly reminded his brethren that another funeral at the cathedral awaited next week, when funeral services for Mora take place.